The bigger postpartum picture…

Mamas, I want to take a minute to talk about all of the things postpartum. Well maybe not all of the things, but at least some of them…

There is SO.MUCH.PRESSURE. to “bounce back” quickly after giving birth… physically, mentally, emotionally. In some ways, it feels like we are expected to be back to “normal” as soon as we walk out of the hospital doors. And if we aren’t, we are weak. Or needy. Or a burden to those around us.

Not only are these [unrealistic] expectations placed on us [both implicitly and explicitly] but people also tend to assess how we are “doing” based on our physical appearance alone. Why? Because that’s the most obvious and visible way to measure people up, and looking more than skin deep tends to make people uncomfortable.

I have always been a “skinnier” person, and after both of my pregnancies I regained my figure in a fairly short amount of time. But I am so, SO tired of hearing “WOW, you look great!” Not because I don’t appreciate the compliment, but because it just feels a bit canned to me. It feels like it’s the safe thing to say. It feels inadequate…incomplete.

Today I had my 6-week postpartum appointment. I got the “all clear” from my doctor, who said everything looked great and I have healed up really well.

Almost everyone I see comments on my physical appearance…how it doesn’t look like I just had a baby.


But the thing is, I DID. And when I look in the mirror, what I see is a mama still struggling through this phase of postpartum. I can obviously see it physically — in my squishy, saggy middle, in my my weary eyes and unwashed hair. Clothes and concealer may cover those things on the outside, but I know what’s underneath.

I can also feel what’s underneath. It’s in my heart that is both overflowing with love and aching from the weight of my new responsibilities. It’s in my soul that is always slightly unsettled and often anxious. The exhaustion runs deep in my bones as I single-handedly sustain another human being with my own body. I feel the changes in my relationships…with my husband, my family, my friends. I feel overjoyed but overwhelmed. I feel blessed but burdened. Do you feel it, too?

That’s why it doesn’t necessarily feel good when someone says you “look” good. Because how we look on the outside…that’s only the frame that holds the bigger picture. It is dependent on superficial factors like how longs it’s been since we last took a shower, if there was time to put on a coat of mascara between changing diapers / feeding / folding the hundredth load of laundry for the week, and if there happens to be spit-up on the front of our shirt. I don’t want to be seen for these things or for the fact that I do or don’t fit back in my “pre-pregnancy” pants. I want to be seen for the whole picture. And sometimes…that picture is not pretty.

This phase is no doubt magical, but it can also be mundane. It is exhilarating, but also exhausting. And even when it is happy, it is so dang hard.

Hang in there, mama. There is someone out there who sees you…all of you.

give a little grace…

Grace upon grace. That is what I needed this morning. Because before then sun hit the horizon, it was all aboard the hot.mess.express at the Hummel household…

Daddy was out of town for work, so Murphy’s Law y’all.  Before we dive into the good stuff, here’s a little rundown of the first four hours of our day…

Little woke up like clockwork for her 5:30 AM feeding. She typically ALWAYS goes back to sleep for a couple of hours after this feed. So this mama was planning to have a solid hour of independence before big sister’s 7 AM wake-up call – which meant big plans for real clothes, fixed hair and at least one cup of coffee circulating through my system. N-O-P-E. Lakyn Lee had no interest in going back to sleep today.

The rock-n-play pacified her for a moment – almost long enough for me to wash my face. Which, thanks to @msrachelhollis, we all know is important right?!

Then it all broke loose. Baby wailing from the living room. Big sister calling out for “MAAAAMAAAA…” from bed because baby was being “too noisy” for her.  I glanced at the clock…6:30 AM. I didn’t even get to brush my teeth in peace.

Very, very contrary to my belief system surrounding screen time and meal time, I appeased said toddler at the kitchen counter with a bowl of cereal and PawPatrol on the iPad. Desperate times, friends.

Much to big sister’s dismay (because it was clearly a distraction from the adventures of Alex and Chase) I let the little continue to cry just long enough to pull on yesterday’s stretchy pants and a sweatshirt. So much for making myself semi-presentable for school drop-off…

Got baby changed and dressed and put in the carrier. Screaming continued.

Argued with toddler about her clothes (see picture below). Argued with toddler about her hair (see picture below). Argued with toddler about watching another PawPatrol (Ummm…that’s a no). 

Lopsided pigtails. High-water overalls. But she looked exactly like she wanted, and to a three-year-old that’s all that matters.

Meanwhile…baby still screaming.

Got everyone out the door and realized it was 35 degrees and no one had a coat. Opened the car door for toddler to get herself loaded into her carseat and buckled the baby into hers before heading back in for coats…and more coffee.

Got halfway down the driveway and realized I had not a) taken toddler to the bathroom or b) bushed her teeth. Kept driving because…baby still screaming. And there was a potty and a toothbrush at school…she could make it 30 miles.

Pulled out onto the highway. Toddler yells, “Mommy, LOOK!” While she had done the top clip of her seatbelt as she always does, I had neglected to buckle the bottom part. Probably my biggest #momfail of the morning. Pulled over. Got her buckled.

Got to school. Baby asleep!! All the praise hands. Unloaded everyone and got to the classroom. Toddler had a meltdown. Ran out the door and wrapped herself around my legs screaming. Teacher pried her off and I walked out the door with her yelling for her mommy. The definition of pure torture.

Got the baby in the car. Got myself in the car. I started crying. Then baby started crying. Every Hummel girl at that moment was crying.

Drove to Target. What else was there to do?

Baby cried all the way back to the nursing room, but after her mid-morning snack, all was right in her world again. Mama got herself a latte and headed to amble aimlessly through the throw pillows, blankets and candles…because can you really have too many?? For a brief moment, all was well…

Mama’s happy place.

The tranquility was short lived. One of us was crying again. Surprisingly, it wan’t me. Defeated, I walked toward the exit. But on my way out, a chance encounter completely changed my attitude and outlook for the day. A friend was walking in with her now 8-month-old daughter. She took one look at me and my screaming babe, wrapped her arms around me and said, “You’re doing great mama.”

It took everything I had to hold myself together. Four little words brought such reprieve and solidarity with another human. Another mama. Another warrior. She didn’t just say it, she meant it. 

The details of my day are really irrelevant. The point is, one kind gesture…one moment of grace…completely turned my day around. The rest of the day wasn’t easy. But the five minutes I spent with that friend reminded me that even in the moments I feel like we’re all falling apart…I’m still doing great at this mama gig. 

So give a little grace. To yourself, and to others. Because a little grace goes a long way.

This is Thirty-Two

Yesterday was a good day. Yesterday was a HARD day. Yesterday, I turned 32.

Yesterday — My sweet husband had to work, so I kissed him goodbye in a sleep-deprived stupor long before the sun came up. He got home just in time to jump in on the nightly bedtime routine and fall back into bed completely spent. I missed him. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an ordinary day. And ordinary days are better with him by my side.

Yesterday — I spent the majority of the day at home alone caring for my 5-day-old baby (formal introduction coming soon). Which means all of the good things (like sleepy snuggles and afternoon snoozes) and all of the hard things (like an explosive baby blow-out all over the bed, which then meant the sheets needed washed).

Sweet baby snuggles.

Yesterday — I was essentially isolated from my older daughter (for the third day in a row) because she was diagnosed with hand, foot and mouth earlier in the week. Explaining to a 3-year-old why she can’t stay at home with her mommy and daddy or give her newborn sister hugs & kisses is nothing short of brutal. My heart hurt for her this week in ways I didn’t know it could.

Yesterday — I was separated from my family who is in town because…well…a 5-day-old baby and a toddler with HF&M. And, my poor parents who took the brunt of caring for said toddler came down with their own case of the ick. So…no birthday hugs for this girl.

Yesterday — I ached. Physically, mentally and emotionally ached. Everywhere. Partly childbirth recovery. Partly sleep deprivation. But mostly a hectic, stressful week that looked absolutely noting like I had imagined our first week home with baby would look.

But yesterday — it  was so good. Because all of these really hard things….they are rooted in good things. Really good things.

Coffee and diamonds.

Like my husband — who kissed me goodbye before the sun kissed the morning sky (after the kind of sleepless night you have with a newborn). Yes, he was gone on my birthday. On what would have been our very first Saturday at home together as a family. But…he is providing for our family with a career in an industry he loves. His passion provides his paycheck, and that’s pretty rare. Also…he made sure that I felt not only loved  on my birthday, but also known. I woke up to a fresh pot of coffee, the sweetest card and a beautiful ring — baby band #3. Did I mention the coffee? Because he knew this mama would need a whole lot of #coffeeandjesus to get through the day. That’s love.

And this newborn baby — whoa. I started my day, also before the sun came up, feeding her from my own body (which was then demanded of me again and again throughout the day). I answered every cry and met every need. I cleaned up poop and spit-up and spilled milk. Because I am her mother. And that is a miracle that’s not lost on me. And through tired eyes, I got to watch the night turn into day and then the day turn back into night with her snuggled soundly on my chest. Holymoly I am #blessed.

And my Lexi girl — she had a long, hard week. Probably the hardest of all of us. Monday she woke up and her baby sister came into this world and everything changed just like that. Add on the awful discomfort of hand, foot and mouth and several days that she couldn’t be around her mama and sister…it was enough to make any person break, let alone a 3-year-old. But she is tough. So, so tough. I saw her resilient spirit more clearly this week than I ever have before. And it made me exponentially proud to be her mama.

And then there’s my family — Y’all. There are not enough good words in the world to describe them. Last weekend they loved, supported and comforted me through three days of agonizing pre-labor. They were there to welcome our sweet girl into this world and handle all-of-the-things I couldn’t. And my parents pretty much earned their Sainthood taking care of Lexi full-time so we could keep everyone at home as healthy as possible. Their love is supernatural and sacrificial. And even though our first week at home was not what I’d hoped…I am beyond words grateful for the incredible support and love that surrounded me each day. How lucky am I to bring my daughters into a family like that?

Every discomfort, every ache, every tear this week was so worth it. Because sometimes, the most beautiful things grow and flourish in the most difficult places.

So this is thirty-two. It’s not a birthday I will remember because there were extravagant gifts or a spectacular party. It wasn’t glamorous and there are no Instagram-worthy photos to commemorate the day. But it’s a day I will never forget, because it so perfectly embodied the hard stuff and the good stuff of this every-day life I get to live. And the humans I get to love through it all. And those things are far better than gifts and cake and parties any day of the week.

With Grace,

Jen

Baring Our Battle Scars

If you’re not into talking mom bods and stretch marks and swimsuits, you can stop reading now. You’ve been warned…

Yesterday, I posted this photo on Instagram:

Lexi loving her first swim!!!

It looks rather ordinary at first glance. Just me sitting in a little pool with my baby girl getting photo bombed by one of the three amigos. But this image is so much more than it appears. Like most photos, it has a story…

Just before it was taken, I very sternly instructed my husband not to get my stomach in any pictures. Why? I was embarrassed. Self-conscious about the scars, stretch marks and general “squishy-ness” that resulted from growing two tiny humans at one time.

After the scolding, I turned my attention back to my daughter. She was LOVING her first time in the pool, and I was enamored by her adventure. My husband kept snapping away in the background. He even stopped to take a video. He wanted to capture the moment. To him…it was beautiful. Our daughter was beautiful. I was beautiful.

As mothers, we bare many battle scars. Some physical, some emotional, some spiritual.  It’s just a part of the gig. Motherhood changes us. But oftentimes, we view those changes – especially the physical ones – as “ugly” or “undesirable” when, in reality, we should be honored to have them.

As I later scrolled through the images on my husband’s phone, I couldn’t help but cringe when I saw the loose skin hanging from my mid-section. When I brought it up…again…he rolled his eyes. “It’s a beautiful picture,” he assured me. I turned my attention from myself to my daughter, and saw the delight on her face. She was engaged and elated…while I was anxious  and apprehensive. How incongruous.

So last night, I did something uncomfortable. I posted one of the pictures. Yes, it was one that strategically concealed the mommy marks…or warrior wounds as one friend calls them. But, I put myself out there in a way I hadn’t before. Because I’m only certain there are other mamas out there feeling all of these feelings. And I want you to know – it’s ok. It’s ok to put on your one piece – or your itty-bitty bikini – and not worry about the world around you. It’s ok if instead of a six pack you have tummy slack and it would take the jaws of life to give you anything resembling a thigh gap. I’m right there with you. But really…who cares? Because those babies you are making memories with…you grew those. And they are totally worth rocking a mom bod.

I am still learning to love my new body. To embrace what it reprints. Slowly but surely, I’m baring my battle scars.

With Grace,

Jen

Being a Bereaved Mother

Mama&MeMy first “real” Mother’s Day. Second, technically speaking. Last year, I celebrated this bitter-sweet day in a hospital room…with my own mama…waiting on the two precious babes who soon after granted me the title “mom” for the very first time.

And while this may technically be my second Mother’s Day, it is my first as a bereaved mother.

What does that mean…bereaved? I’ve been tossing the word around describing myself since we lost Emalynn. At first, I thought maybe it was just the most socially acceptable way to describe someone who had lost a child. It’s a “comfortable” word for others to hear…not too invasive or cold.

Then, I looked up the definition.

be·reave | bəˈrēv/ | verb

past participle: bereaved

to be deprived of a loved one through a profound absence, especially due to the loved one’s death.

To be deprived.

A profound absence.

These are powerful words.

This Mother’s Day, my heart overflows as I celebrate one of the most precious gifts I’ve been given. I woke up this morning to a beautiful baby girl, a loving husband and a happy home. I know there are countless women who would give anything to have been in my shoes today.

But, this Mother’s Day, I also feel a profound absence. And it’s an absence that will never go away. It’s the hole that was left in my heart the day the Lord called my second baby home. I feel deprived – of her love, of her touch, of the memories I will never get to make as her mother. I am a bereaved mother. One of my babies died and I now live on without her. There is no greater deprivation.

But I do not walk this path alone. On this Mother’s Day, there are many women who have empty arms and aching heats. Maybe it’s the result of an uphill battle with infertility or the hidden pain of miscarriage that the world will never see. It could be the loss of a baby shortly after birth, or following a long battle with childhood illness. It may be the loss of a son or daughter who was grown, but then died in a tragic accident. Maybe it’s a foster mom who has seen children come and go, never truly her own, although she always treated them as if they were. There are many, many, many women who are just trying to survive this day and wake up tomorrow with another 364 days before they have to face it all again.

Tonight, I pray for those women. I pray for their fight to be faithful in trusting God’s plan. I pray for their hearts to be healed by knowing they are not alone. I pray for deeper understanding, gradual acceptance and abundant love.

Today, we recognize and celebrate mothers – as we should. But let us also recognize that motherhood should not be taken at face value, and not everyone comes by it easily.

With Grace,

Jen